By Arun Pratap Singh
Dehradun, 6 May: It was only natural that, in the absence of any conviction or completion of probe regarding the involvement in the National Highway-74 scam, suspended IAS officer Pankaj Pandey would be reinstated. Though he has not been given any charge, so far, valid questions have been raised by Congress about the progress and the status of the probe in the scam.
Responding to the Congress charge, BJP State Media Cell In-Charge Dr Devendra Bhasin had asserted that suspension of a government officer did not amount to punishment and that revoking the suspension also did not mean giving a clean chit. Technically, the BJP assertion is not wrong. The suspension by itself is not punishment. However, serious questions do arise regarding the status of the probe into the NH Scam, particularly when the BJP Government in the state cites this case as a prime example of its “Zero tolerance towards corruption” policy.
The SIT probe, which started more than a year ago, had initially made good progress. It had reached the conclusion that there was indeed a scam to the tune of more than Rs 330 crores in the case. It had also sought permission to probe the role of two IAS officers in the scam, namely Pankaj Pandey and Chandresh Yadav. More than 8 PCS officers were also suspended by the BJP Government after coming to power in 2017. However, of late, the probe seems to be heading nowhere. During the past few months, nothing has happened at the ground level.
Sources claim that the probe into the NH Scam is unlikely to result in convictions unless the government is willing to probe the role of politicians in the scam. They claim that the scam was done at the behest of some powerful politicians, mostly from Congress, which was in power then. It may be recalled that, while going through some records and documents, the then Kumaon Commissioner, D Senthil Pandian came across files related to payment of compensation and change of land use of the land being acquired for the construction of National Highway 74. He recorded his observations in writing and recommended a deeper probe. The BJP leaders, then in the Opposition, had raised a furore over this and it became a major election issue in the 2017 assembly polls. After coming to power, the BJP Government led by Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat ordered a CBI probe into the scam, but that never happened due to some strange hesitation on the part of the Centre. Consequently, an SIT probe was ordered which did progress well initially. The probe revealed not only that land use was changed of land being acquired for the Highway from agriculture to commercial and, consequently, a much higher rate of compensation was fixed, particularly in villages of Kashipur Block, Udham Singh Nagar district. The villages included Dabhaura, Mustakam, Baanskhera and Ginnikhera, where a 25 km long stretch of road had to pass. It is pertinent to remind here that land use of area under acquisition can’t be changed till it is fully acquired by the government. Interestingly, a significant sum of money was transferred by the farmers who got the compensation to a bank account existing at Nashville Road, Dehradun, which was in the name of the Pradesh Congress Committee, but was operated strangely not by then PCC Chief Kishore Upadhyay or the PCC Treasurer, but by an official from the Chief Minister’s office.
The government suspended no less than 8 PCS officers and around 25 persons were arrested, too. The SIT also sought permission from the government to probe the role of two IAS officers, Pankaj Pandey and Chandresh Yadav. Once the DOPT accorded the permission, a probe was ordered by the government and senior IAS officers Shailesh Bagoli and Bhupinder Kaur Alakh were appointed as Inquiry Officers. One year on, nothing is known about the progress of the probe by these officers. In the meantime, IAS officer Chandresh Yadav managed to get reinstated based on his claim that he was merely an arbitrator in the fixing of compensation and therefore he could not be held guilty under the law. Now that Pandey has also been reinstated, questions arise about the status of the probe. The then SLO, DP Singh, has been named as chief accused even when, sources in the government claim, the real culprits are some powerful politicians, most of them from the Congress which was in power then. They claim that the officials were willing tools in the hands of the politicians in the case and, therefore, are equally guilty. Singh too has managed to secure bail from the Nainital High Court and the probe in the last six months has made little progress if any. They cite lack of political and bureaucratic will in punishing the guilty as the major reason behind lack of further progress, which they claim is otherwise a straightforward case of fraud. At this rate, the officials as well as the farmers and the builders who were arrested for receiving higher compensation will also be out on bail and the case will drag on endlessly without conclusion and conviction of the guilty.